Explain the political significance of the moment when Diem called Ambassador Lodge during the 1963 Vietnamese Coup.

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Ashley Kannan | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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When addressing a historically complex and nuanced issue like American involvement in Vietnam, there is a tendency to identify specific moments and increase their importance.  Sometimes, this becomes problematic because it tends to eliminate the other events that gave rise and followed it.  Yet, I think that the moment when Ambassador Lodge speaks to Diem during the 1963 Coup is really significant.  Consider the situation in that Diem contacts Ambassador Lodge in the midst of political peril.  He presumes that he will receive some type of assistance from the United States.  Yet, he is put "on hold."  This is significant for a couple of reasons.  The first is that Lodge must have realized at this moment that the United States' inquiry into a regime change holds immediate and tangible impacts.  It also helps to reveal the extent of United States involvement in the region, something that Ambassador Lodge himself sought to minimize.  When Colonel Mike Dunn suggests to Lodge that he can retrieve the Diem brothers himself, Lodge rebukes him with the brutally ironic line of "We just can't get that involved."  The conversation with Diem had proven to Lodge that America was "that involved."  The fact that Lodge places him on hold reveals one of two significant realities regarding American involvement in the region.  The first is that the American political machinery understood its power in the region, suggesting that Lodge placing Diem on hold gave him enough time to notify coup leaders where Diem was.  The other one is that Lodge places Diem on hold simply because he recognized that America was involved in Vietnam and he became significantly overwhelmed with the magnitude of this involvement.  In either case, the phone conversation with Lodge reveals how critical a moment America's relationship with Vietnam was at this instant in 1963, reflective of only the beginning of how American involvement would grow in the region throughout the decade.

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